If you came to this post because you think there is some kind of giveaway going on, I’m sorry to disappoint you. There isn’t. I did receive several gifts in exchange for deleting my Facebook, but no one gave them to me. They sort of materialized as a natural consequence of opting out.
I deleted my Facebook because I felt that it was wasting my time. We don’t have a lot of time, you see, only a limited number of years, weeks, minutes. I didn’t want to spend any more of my minutes on Facebook, so I deleted it. I thought about the accumulation of all those minutes spent scrolling through things I don’t actually care about, in hopes of coming across something I did care about. How many posts of lunches, political views, pictures of kids doing mundane things did I waste my minutes on? Imagine what I could do if I got those minutes back each day. I’m learning German, for starters.
The reclaiming of my time was a pleasant side effect of deleting Facebook, but the biggest change I’ve noticed is that I got my brain back. By brain I mean my attention span, my ability to concentrate, my level of attachment to my phone. I think most people do not realize how compulsive social media makes you. It was engineered that way on purpose. The more you “engage,” the more ads you see and the more money they make. They need you to be hooked, to check your phone like you have OCD, because your attention is the product they sell to advertisers. We get addicted to social media QUICKLY, and by design. I think most of us are addicted, even though few would admit it. Most of us check our phones multiple times per day, not five or ten, but closer to a hundred, or even in the hundreds, depending on our level of engagement with social media.
I had already been off Instagram for months when I deleted Facebook, but Facebook was the platform I was most involved with. When it was gone, I had no real reason to check my phone because I knew there was nothing on it. It would ring if anyone called me, and who calls anymore? All of a sudden this tether from my hand to my phone, and more importantly my attention to my phone, was severed. I was free from the tyranny of the cell phone. I could leave it in the car, leave it at home, leave it in the living room if I had to pee. There was nothing on it of interest, and therefore no need to tirelessly tote it around.
I noticed after a few weeks that my brain was far more peaceful in multiple ways. First, I had no FOMO (fear of missing out). I had no idea what other people did that day unless I saw them and they told me. I did not have a front row seat into other people’s lives like I used to, and with that came a new level of contentment with my own life. You can’t feel bad about missing out if you don’t know what’s going on. You may think that isolating myself is causing me to miss out on cool opportunities, but I do cool stuff all the time anyway. I ride horses, hike, kayak, drive up to the mountains, host friends from overseas, all with no connection to social media. I’m very content with these experiences because I’m not comparing them to other people’s experiences.
Secondly, I no longer feel a compulsion to package my life into bite sized, easily digestible pieces for display on social media. I feel no need to commodify my experiences, to frame them in a coherent way, or to come up with a caption to go along with a picture. I am LIVING my life instead of documenting it like a film-maker. The cell phone has an eery way of turning us all into voyeurs, even of our own lives. We become obsessed with packaging our lives in a marketable way, a way that gains likes and followers.
Blogging is a way of sharing, but it happens much less often and I don’t find that it dominates my life the same way as Facebook or Instagram. I write about a particular topic, or a certain trip I took, instead of constantly being on the lookout for little moments that would make good social media posts. Put simply, blogging is less invasive.
Finally, and perhaps best of all, I have noticed a kind of zen brain I didn’t know I was capable of cultivating. Since I am no longer tied to my phone, I can sit and look at the world around me without that nagging urge to check my phone. Our brains get used to the pace of scrolling. A new image or idea every fraction of a second- political post, news article, funny cat video, picture of cute kid, someone’s grandma died, there’s an event this Saturday, someone is on vacation in the Bahamas, and the list is endless. We scroll through unrelated posts that make us feel a variety of emotions from anger to sadness to jealousy, all in a frighteningly small amount of time. Our brains are not designed for this. We are not designed to process information that quickly but, once we learn, we adjust. Our brains crave stimuli constantly, the way an addict craves a hit.
Have you been in the waiting room of a doctor’s office lately? Nobody is looking at the magazines. Everyone is on their phones, and the kids are on tablets. No one can sit quietly without looking at their phone anymore. We can’t sit through a red light, we can’t go to the bathroom, we certainly can’t sit for 30 minutes in a waiting room. People used to read books to pass the time. Now they scroll through social media.
My ability to sit still and just “be” has vastly improved since I deleted Facebook. The other day I sat in an armchair with a pair of binoculars and watched birds for AN HOUR. A whole hour! I was completely engrossed in watching them forage for seeds, flit around, rest on a branch and chase each other away. I didn’t recognize a few of them, so I got out my phone and used an app called Merlin Bird ID to identify them. It’s not that I’m anti-technology. I just feel that my phone should serve me, not the other way around. While bird watching, I felt a profound sense of peace and connection to the earth. Birds are pretty cool, and I’m just getting into learning about them and trying to identify the ones I see around my yard and the barn. Sitting quietly and watching them, rather than being a waste of time like I feel social media is, was a wonderful way of quieting my mind and forging a deeper connection with my little patch of grass in the center of suburbia. It was healing.
A few days ago I sat on an upside down bucket in one of my horse’s stalls and watched him eat for about 25 minutes. I just watched him chew, listened to him snuffle and sigh, and enjoyed a quiet moment with him. When I was still on Facebook, I would have looked at my phone, inevitably been drawn into scrolling through my news feed, and missed out on a time of rest. My brain would have been active, frantic. Watching my horse eat was wonderful in the same way as watching the birds. I was quiet, my brain was still, I felt at peace.
In our society, I feel that peace is hard to come by. I’ll take what I can get, even if it means dropping out of social media.